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Inuit hunter takes climate-change message to Durban conference

Jordan Konek, 23, and cousin Curtis Konek, 21, from Arviat, Nunavut, are attending the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa. The young men have spent time documenting the experiences of their community, in particular its elders, in dealing with a changing Arctic climate.

Erin Conway-Smith/Erin Conway-Smith

It took 30 hours of flying, but Inuit hunter Jordan Konek has arrived in the land of surfers and palm trees with a message for the world's politicians: Climate change is real, and it could devastate Canada's Arctic people.

At his home in Arviat on the western shores of Hudson Bay, the snow is arriving later and melting sooner. Hunters are falling through the ice or becoming trapped in slush. Polar bears are so desperate for food that they are raiding the town's garbage dumps.

"The Inuit see this and the world should know this," Mr. Konek says. "It's happening right before our eyes. If we're going to be ignored, it's like putting a shotgun in our mouth and pulling the trigger."

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Mr. Konek, 23, and his cousin, 21-year-old Curtis Konek, are hoping their message will get through to the negotiators from 190 countries who are struggling to reach agreement on how to combat global warming. But the Durban climate conference has failed to make much progress in its first week, and analysts are warning of a potential breakdown in its final week.

Unlike previous climate summits, few prominent leaders will attend the final days of negotiations, knowing there will be little glory to share. Only 12 heads of state, mostly from Africa and small Pacific islands, are scheduled to arrive in Durban this week. Most of the politicians here will be lower-ranking ministers, including Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent, who was due to arrive late Sunday night.

Mr. Kent will face an uphill battle as he tries to soften the negative image that Canada has quickly developed at Durban. Canada has been singled out for sharp criticism by foreign leaders and environmentalists, especially after reports that the Harper government is planning to announce Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and is lobbying other governments to ditch Kyoto as well.

Thousands of people marched in the streets of Durban on the weekend to demand a legally binding agreement to fight global warming. But this seems an unlikely prospect.

"The negotiations aren't going very well," said Radoslav Dimitrov, a professor at the University of Western Ontario who is a member of the European Union delegation at the Durban talks.

"We shouldn't expect a major outcome from Durban. Some countries have practically thrown their hands up in the air and stopped negotiating. There are many countries that are obstructing the process now."

While the negotiations founder, scientists are reporting more bad news. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels and the cement industry have soared to a record high, rising by 5.9 per cent last year. The rise is the highest ever recorded in a single year, and the biggest increase came from rapidly industrializing countries in the developing world.

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"The latest emissions figures should send shivers down the spines of negotiators in Durban," said Tim Gore, policy adviser for Oxfam. "It is clear that the emissions-reduction pledges set by countries to date are nowhere near adequate to avoid devastating impacts for millions of poor people."

Another report on Sunday warned that the world's wildlife is suffering heavy damage from global warming. The report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization documented how the changing climate is causing death and disease in a vast range of animal species – including lions in the Serengeti, elephants in West Africa, tigers in India and caribou in northern Canada. Up to 30 per cent of plant and animal species are at higher risk of extinction because of global warming, it said.

"The world is undergoing an extinction crisis – the most rapid loss of biodiversity in the planet's history – and this loss is likely to accelerate as the climate changes," the report said. "Climate change is likely to exacerbate all of the traditional threats to wildlife, as well as introducing new ones."

Jordan Konek sees the same dangers in Nunavut, where he has interviewed Inuit elders for films and blogs. "The Canadian government is ignoring how people are experiencing climate change," he said. "It's obvious that our climate is changing. The snow is coming a lot later now. We'll be losing our hunting culture."

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